A history of Strangers' Hall
One of Norwich’s most historic buildings, this magnificent Tudor house has been home to many of the city’s leading citizens since the 14th century.
There has been a substantial building on this plot since the 13th century or possibly even earlier.
The undercroft at Strangers’ Hall is thought to date from the 1320s when Ralph de Middelton owned a house on this site. The undercroft was used to securely store, and possibly display, goods for sale.
The house on this site was seen as a prestigious dwelling and many merchants and mayors made their mark on the building - remodelling and extending it to reflect their wealth and status.
It is thought that the Great Hall was built during the 15th century, when William Barley, a mercer (cloth merchant) lived here.
During the 16th century, the house was owned by Norwich grocer and mayor, Thomas Sotherton and it is as a result of his entrepreneurism that the house eventually became known as Strangers’ Hall.
The first ‘strangers’ were Dutch, Walloon and Flemish refugee weavers who fled the low countries in the 16th century as a result of the persecution of Dutch Calvinists by their Spanish (Catholic) rulers.
Under Elizabeth I, England was a Protestant country and so welcomed the refugees. The asylum seekers first settled in Sandwich, Kent, in 1565. However Thomas Sotherton was keen to encourage these skilled workers to settle in Norwich because their skills in textile weaving made the immigrants of immense economic value. Documents show that some may have lodged at Strangers’ Hall and much of the prosperity of Norfolk after this period can be traced to this influx of refugees.
The Sotherton family made extensive improvements to the house, installing the crown post roof and stone-mullioned bay window. The front door, vaulted porch and steps were added to give direct access to the Great Hall without passing through the cellars.
A later resident, grocer Francis Cock, installed the Walnut Room, magnificent staircase and the window that lights it in 1627 - the year he became Mayor of Norwich.
The Great Chamber was originally in a separate wing from the Great Hall. It is now displayed as the private chamber of Sir Joseph Paine, a wealthy city hosier who lived at Strangers’ Hall between 1659 and 1667.
Paine was mayor when Norwich declared its support for the restoration of Charles II. In 1660 he went to London to present the newly-restored King with one thousand pounds in gold from the citizens of Norwich and was rewarded with a knighthood.
In 1748 Strangers’ Hall became the official lodging of the Assize Judges who came to the city regularly to hear court cases. The Georgian dining room was installed for them, designed in the latest style with deep sash windows, painted wall panelling, decorated over-mantel and plaster ceiling.
By the 1890s Strangers’ Hall stood empty, neglected and derelict. In 1899, local solicitor Leonard Bolingbroke bought the building, saving it from demolition. He was a keen collector and furnished the house with his own antiques. In May 1900, he opened it to the public as a folk museum – one of the first of its kind in Britain. In 1922, he presented the museum and contents to the City of Norwich.
In 1974 Norwich City Council joined with the other Norfolk local authorities to form the Norfolk Museums Service who now manage Strangers' Hall.